Big Story 10

"Unprecedented" security challenges put resilience center-stage for NATO

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - From terror events in busy urban centers to online cyber attacks against business, the world is confronted by “unprecedented security challenges”, said a senior British official with the NATO military alliance, adding that helping its member states prepare is a key way to mitigate such threats.

“We regard the present security environment as the most challenging and the most dangerous since the end of the Cold War,” NATO Commander Chris Bennett told a conference on resilience in London on Wednesday.

From Russia’s “aggressive actions” in Eastern Europe to organized crime and failing states, Bennett said nations in the 29-member alliance must work together to tackle common threats.

“Our modern global environment is characterized by complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity,” he said.

Reinforcing alliances, participating in collaborative war games, and strengthening intelligence-gathering could all help build resilience and allow NATO to adapt to current conditions, he said.

“We recognize that we need to improve our resilience,” said Bennett. “By that, we mean civil preparedness alongside our military preparedness to deter and defend against a full range of shocks and threats.”

Resilience is not a new concept for NATO, having been mentioned in Article 3 of its 1949 founding treaty. But the international body has decided to place renewed emphasis on the concept due to today’s security environment, said Bennett.

The U.S.-led alliance already has in place seven baseline goals to bolster resilience and assess progress, which NATO heads of state agreed to in Warsaw in 2016.

They include countries having resilient energy supplies, food and water resources and civil communications systems, as well as the ability to deal with mass casualties and uncontrolled movement of people.

For Britain, a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, resilience challenges encompass national security, as the island state has this year suffered five major attacks regarded by authorities as terrorist incidents, most recently on a London commuter train last week.

“The world’s a changing place,” said Paul McCloghrie of the UK Cabinet Office’s Civil Contingencies Secretariat. “The breakdown of international norms that we’ve seen recently certainly is very worrying.”

Strengthening international partnerships, such as with NATO and the United Nations, is a crucial way for Britain to cope with threats, he added.

Britain recently released its National Risk Register 2017, which provides an overview of the risks that have the potential to cause significant disruption to the country, including nuclear attacks, chemical warfare and terrorism.

McCloghrie noted that citizens are generally good at getting back on their feet after a major crisis, but expressed concern that over-reliance on technology could mean “our back-up skills are quite rusty”.

The public should be at the forefront of national security concerns, said Ilan Kelman of University College London’s Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction.

“National security is about all of us,” he said.

Individuals need to educate themselves, talk to politicians and vote, Kelman added.

Utilizing social media and community networks to improve preparedness for national security threats is also important, experts said.

For Alasdair Booth, a counter-terrorism researcher at Loughborough University, “communication is key”.

Getting out precautionary messages and making people aware of risks in their surroundings through online videos and public campaigns, coupled with training security stewards and emergency responders, could help build resilience to security shocks, he said.

“The reality is the authorities can’t deal with it by themselves,” he added.